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Lyle Spencer

Whether leadoff or not, Segura entrenched atop lineup

After batting second in 2013, table-setting role possible for 24-year-old shortstop

Whether leadoff or not, Segura entrenched atop lineup play video for Whether leadoff or not, Segura entrenched atop lineup

PHOENIX -- Physically, Jean Segura doesn't fit the classic shortstop mold. Compact and muscular at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, he's built more along the lines of Rickey Henderson than, say, Omar Vizquel.

A fine blend of those two greats would suit Brewers fans and their gifted young shortstop just fine.

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Segura is coming off a breakout 2013 campaign, earning an All-Star Game berth in his first full season in the bigs. It was diminished only by a sluggish finish owed largely to the cumulative effects of a heavy workload.

If Segura's .268 Cactus League batting average this spring has been less than eye-popping, that might not be a bad thing. It's never a good idea to leave too many base hits in Arizona.

Segura is an essential piece in manager Ron Roenicke's blueprints. The Dominican Republic's swift and athletic gift to Milwaukee's infield might lead off or might bat second. In either case, he'll be a table-setting catalyst for Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez, the big boppers with 100-RBI resumes.

"I don't really have a preference," Segura said when asked about batting first or second. "One or two, either way, it's good. We'll see. I'm ready for anything. I'm not the one to make that decision. Whatever the manager wants, I'm ready for it."

Batting second almost exclusively last year, Segura finished with a .294/.329/.423 slash line, stealing 44 bases (second in the National League) in 57 attempts. Slashing the ball to all fields with a hitting style reminiscent of Raul Mondesi, he produced 20 doubles, 10 triples and 12 homers.

It was a tale of two halves for Segura. Among the NL hitting leaders throughout the first half, reaching the All-Star break at .325 with an on-base plus slugging percentage of .849, he slipped to .241 with a .583 OPS after the break.

"My first full season helped me a lot, learning how everything goes, how to play under control and with confidence," Segura said. "I worked more in the offseason with my [personal] trainer, and I'm hopefully going to be a little stronger -- and better -- this year."

Roenicke has other options for the leadoff role vacated by Norichika Aoki, who was dealt to the Royals. Carlos Gomez, who has looked good leading off the past two games with Segura behind him, certainly has the speed, but his power plays in the heart of the order. Rickie Weeks and Scooter Gennett, possible platoon partners at second, are other possibilities.

Segura and Gomez, who had 40 steals to go with 24 homers, would form a dynamic 1-2 punch in front of Braun, Ramirez and Jonathan Lucroy.

"If it's Carlos and me, either way, that would be pretty exciting," Segura said.

Unlike Henderson, the greatest leadoff man in history, Segura isn't known for his patience with a bat in his hands. It is his nature, familiar to those from his homeland, to come out hammering the first appealing delivery in his swing path.

"I don't want to lose my aggressiveness batting first," Segura said. "I want to get on base, and to do that, I have to be aggressive. It doesn't matter how you do it as long as you get on base.

"That first pitch a lot of times is the best one you'll get. If it's the one you think you can hit hard and put in play, why not swing at it?"

The numbers support Segura's belief, in bold letters. Putting the first pitch in play 64 times last year, he batted .406 with nine extra-base hits, including three homers.

Roenicke had Segura in the leadoff spot only twice last year.

"He's not the typical guy to do it because he's aggressive," Roenicke said. "He's a swinger. I don't want him to change if I put him in the leadoff spot.

"That goes with everybody. When I put them in different spots in the lineup, I just want guys to hit. We move them around sometimes for necessity, and it doesn't mean you hit fourth and all of a sudden you have to start swinging for the fence. He's a guy who's aggressive and needs to stay that way."

This is where we cue in Yogi Berra's famous line: "You can't hit and think at the same time."

Roenicke keeps the communication lines open with all of his players.

"What I like is he's comfortable enough now to come in here, and we'll talk about things," the manager said. "He's a very honest guy."

Segura's defense speaks for itself. He was sure-handed and steady in the field for such a relatively inexperienced player. His range factor was judged the fourth best among all NL shortstops, and his .978 fielding percentage was fifth highest.

"I signed [with the Angels] as a shortstop and always in my mind was a shortstop," Segura said. "I'm happy the way it worked out. I'm very confident there."

With Erick Aybar entrenched at shortstop, the Angels were getting Segura acclimated at second when they sent him to the Brewers at the 2012 non-waiver Trade Deadline along with pitchers Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena in exchange for Zack Greinke.

Segura celebrated his 24th birthday on Monday. He's one of the most exciting young talents in the game, an All-Star already with the skills and attitude to make it back to the Midsummer Classic on multiple occasions -- no matter where he hits in Milwaukee's lineup.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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